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Last Updated: Friday, 14 December 2007, 15:11 GMT
WW1 letter found 93 years later
World War I
Troops faced miserable conditions on the Western Front
A letter written by a British officer from the Western Front on Christmas Day 1914 has been discovered 93 years on.

In it 24-year-old second lieutenant Trevor Bird tells his father William how he was arrested as a suspected German spy by his own side.

Unusually it was not censored, and at one point Lt Bird describes an order by a superior officer to make a bayonet attack as "criminal".

The letter was discovered in a family trunk by Mr Bird's grandson.

Lt Bird describes being up to his waist in freezing water and the "ping" of bullets every time he "showed" himself from the trenches.

We get well paid so mustn't complain I suppose
Second Lieutenant Trevor Bird, 1914

The letter was discovered a few weeks ago by his grandson, 49-year-old Stephen Birley, who lives near Exeter and who is a former Guardsman.

Mr Birley, who stayed with his grandfather when he lived in Bradninch, near Exeter, is trying to establish where the letter was written, saying he did not know his grandfather served in WWI and never spoke about it.

The comments in the letter about Lt Bird's superiors would usually have been obscured by the censors, but it was delivered intact to the family home in Guernsey.

It was found among family documents in a trunk, which included a tin of 16 cigarettes and a Christmas card from King George V, sent to all army officers.

'Feet like balloons'

Despite his experience of trench warfare, Lt Bird went on to become a colonel and lived until he was 102. He grew up in India and served with the 8th Light Cavalry of the Indian army. He died 15 years ago.

The letter goes into detail about how he was on patrol and then captured by Allied troops near British trenches and accused of being a spy.

Despite the horrors of trench warfare, and what Lt Bird described having "a pair of feet like balloons", he said that he was well-paid, so there was no need to complain.

Second Lt Trevor Bird's letter: Christmas Day, 1914

My Dear Father

Christmas Day you see me still alive, though by Jove, since the 20th I've been having a fairly hairy time. We were sent to a place where the Germans had broken the line. When we finally got under the last cover available we were ordered to make a bayonet attack on the German trenches! It was a criminal order on the part of the man who ordered it.

After 26 hours in water up to the waist I was sent to dry myself with my half squadron behind the firing line. Still sopping wet we were sent off to another lot of trenches and from these I was then pulled out and sent off for a patrol. Every time I showed myself "ping" went a bullet!

However, I finally reached the line of the British Trenches I was making for where to cap all my troubles , I was arrested as a German spy!! It was not until I had been taken before the C.O., with a rifle muzzle in the small of my back, that I was allowed to depart.

Yesterday, we did a 25-mile march I have a pair of feet like balloons and an attack of neuritis and a chill! [...] My tootsies are awfully painful. Well we get well paid so mustn't complain I suppose.

Must stop now, so once more wishing you a Merry and Happy New Year.

Au revoir - Your Loving Trevor



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